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The lack of road rage in China

I’ve just got off an Air China flight from Nanjing to Beijing. It was a smooth flight. The only inconveniences were the usual fellow passengers occasionally clearing their throats noisily and spitting into the motion sickness bags.

Getting off the flight involved a scrum of elbows as passengers in the back of the flight tried to beat the ones in front out of the door.

All in all, a smooth experience _ and it got me to thinking.

Here is what you don’t see in China: You don’t see enraged passengers reaching across airline counters and shaking fingers at quivering airline employees. You don’t see people drinking way too much on flights and making scenes. In other words, you don’t see behavior that goes beyond boorish to the realms of freakish and even dangerous.

In China, I never look around and hope there’s an air marshal nearby.

I got an email from a reader in Massachusetts recently voicing surprise at the lack of road rage in China. It’s true. There’s plenty of muttering among drivers, and an occasional shout. But I never see drivers, pedestrians or cyclists really lose it. Just about everywhere else outside of Asia, I’ve seen that.

I was once in a taxi in Honduras. A bus cut off the cab during a traffic jam. Traffic drew to a halt. The taxi driver reached under his seat, pulled out a crowbar, walked in front of the bus, then smashed both its headlights while proffering a flurry of insults. I was astonished and feared I might be caught in a crowbar-flinging version of World War III.

So here’s an excerpt from the email from reader Thomas Gorton:

I have been to China three times in the past 2 1/2 years and fell in love with the country and her people. I went there for an almost blind date and ended up marrying that date. My wife is now legally here in the States. As for a suggestion for a future story, here it is: on my first trip to Nanning in Guangxi province, and subsequent trips, I spent a lot of time in taxi cabs. Traffic was fairly well controlled but not like here in America. People cutting in and out and frequently cutting across oncoming lanes. Narrow side streets were often blocked by parked motor bikes etc. No one ever got upset or impatient that I witnessed. No one! Road rage, so prevalent here, seemed to be totally non-existent there. Is that true throughout China? Must be I figure.

So that's my suggestion. A column on the lack of road rage and why. It was refreshing to see, but then China is too.

Hopefully I'll read it soon.

You just did.


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A friend with whom I went to China last month said that the Chinese are all anarchists. They like having the laws they just don't like following them. A persons karma determines if his nose gets in front of the other fellow. If so he goes first. If not, he waits till the other goes. Very easy.

Lester Mak

It very much depends on where you are. I often visit Shenzhen and if there was ever a place to be careful on the roads, it is there. I've seen the aftermath of road accidents (some fatal) on many occasions and indeed there's plenty of road rage, all the product of very aggressive driving by all.

That's not to say that SZ is any worse than any other place, but I'm sure in all cities around the world, you can find road rage if you look hard enough


Last March I entered a waiting Taxi in front of my hotel in Songjiang. We drove two blocks and stopped at a red light. Suddenly another cab began to ram our bumper in rapid succession with increasing force. Both drivers exited their vehicles and after the obligatory pushing and shoving they began to exchange blows. My driver quickly began to dominate to the point where he was the "pitcher" and the other driver was the"catcher".I (along with another by-stander) tried to seperate the two since the beating was quite one sided at this point.The police arrived eventually and initialy tried to involve me in the consequences (something like the third man jumping into a hockey fight).The driver who initiated this brouhaha was screaming at the top of his lungs to any and all who would listen..(the translation as explained to me ,went something like this "Even though you have knocked out all of my teeth I will bite the tail of the black dog")...I could be wrong about the appendage.Later I was told by a number of locals that confrontations involving Taxi Drivers happened more and more often as they competed for fares.It turns out that the driver who began this fight had been waiting at the hotel for quite some time and he had left his cab to relieve himself in a thicket of landscaped bamboo.He returned from his "pit" stop in time to see me enter the other Taxi.He felt the other cab had "stolen" his fare. Considering the Chinese proclivity for jumping lines I am sure others will experience similar confrontations ...hopefully not as violent as this mismatch.


I agree. I used to live in china and still visit often. I'm always amazed when a driver pulls the most bone-headed move, completely cuts off another driver and the two just smile. The same move in any other place would make any temper explode. I don't think the move is seen as rude more like a pardon me as I cut in front of you. I chalk it up to driving in heavy traffic as something new. Give it some time.


Obviously you don't know everything about China. Here, passengers don't show fingers, they raid in airline companines' counters. Check out this news (Chinese)


John Reb

This is one of those fatuous style of American articles from the blow-dried corporate media types. They try to pawn off their rides to the airport from the hotel as genuine cultural insights.

There's plenty of road rage in China, at least in southern China. Ask anyone who has really lived there and worked there, as opposed to being a coddled "observer" or "journalist" supported by the rich teat of a large organization.

The US press has zero credibility. If you want to understand China, you're better off finding a good blog.


On Chinese road rage.

There is legitimate reason why there is no road-rage in China, although some does occurr.

The reason is this: Usually both drivers are in the wrong. Both drivers have no driving licenses, and both drivers do not believe other people have the right to use the same roads as themselves. More seductively, it may be added that both parties in an accident have no idea how potent their opponents government connections are.

Even the educated university students mow you down on their scooters at every chance they get. When you confront them about the matter they smile and say: "China is a developing nation."

Its a catch-phrase that even the Teachers at their Universities use.

There is no road rage, per se, because if an accident did occurr, both parties upon close inspection by the traffic police, would likely be locked up.

Those who live in China have ample opportunity to see motorcycle impalements. And I am now no longer astonished or saddened at the three-on-one motorbike family wipe-out. I mean, if they can't stop at the red light for even a moment, who's to blame?

A student fell of her bike and broke her skull, I saw it happen. Other students simply whizzed over her, without stopping. This is the antitheisis of road-rage.


Isn't this road rage:http://www.chinasmack.com/videos/wuhan-female-bus-driver-violently-beaten-by-passengers/


i was in xi'an in april '08 and my taxi driver cut off a bus. at the next red light the bus driver got out and came over and yanked my driver out of our taxi and they shouted at each other any grabbed each other by the collar and shook each other. definitely rage.


Last December on the way back from Saigon I had a stop in Nanning. After several hours of waiting while departure information changed again and again we were informed that the flight was canceled and that we would be spending the night in Nanning. After going to the provided bus and finding no one else we located the mob around the check-in counter where there were a lot of upset people. The airline employees were telling everyone there would be no flight today.

There was a lot of finger wagging and upset going around.

After some failed effort to make an impression by my presence I had the presence of mind to wave my US Passport in front of an airline employee. My friend and I were immediately booked into business class, at no extra charge, and left the crowd which, as you can imagine, was even more enraged than before seeing our special treatment.

Later while kicked back in business class with a fruit juice and a news paper I saw some of the previously nearly stranded come through, and give me a not so nice glance.

In general I agree, there's a remarkable lack of road rage in China, but I think it's just because people aren't pushed beyond their accustomed limits.


Theres a Chinese proverb about blind men feeling an elephant. China's like the big elephant; Tim felt the trunk, while others were unlucky enough to have stuck their hands up the ass.

~ also after living a couple years in the south, I agree with IC's observation. People in general are more fearful of direct confrontation here ~ they'd prefer the hit you in the back approach.
Back up north, my grandmother once caught a thief at the market trying to take her purse. She ended up having to defend him and calm the angry crowd that was about to descend upon him.


It is about regional difference.

Northern Chinease will get road rage easily. Southern Chinese, especially Cantonese, are more afraid of confrontation or fight. It is precisely such tolerance leads to high incidence of pick-pocket in South. In North, a thief will be chased by all Sameritans.

Southern chinese are individualistic. Northerners are more team-players.


On this matter, Tim is quite "Lao Wai". Several years ago, I experienced a terrible road rage in HangZhou. It happened when I was waiting a Taxi from one park to another one. I waived one Taxi driving to the other direction, but it would take him quite while to make a U turn. Another Taxi stopped right on my side and I noticed the first one has not made its U turn. So I decided to take the second Taxi. Three minutes later, I heard a loud "bang" from the back of the Taxi I was sitting. I was shocked to find the first Taxi was trying to crash the second one and actually hit more than 5 times. I asked the Taxi driver to drop me off, but he insisted that such incidents occur time to time when Taxi compete for passengers.


It seems to me that in the cities growing the fastest (with the most "new" drivers) we have seen more road rage. The only "showdown" we have seen was between a traffic officer and a taxi driver. The taxi didn't stop at the spot that she (officer) wanted him to - so she ramed his car with her scooter and then we witnessed an amazing display of the Chinese language.
We did learn what seemed to be the only rule of driving in China: never stop unless dropping off a passenger or forced to do so at a traffic light.

China Resident

I really don't know what you're talking about. I've lived in China for three years. Generally, drivers do go much slower (a good thing, given lax traffic standards).

But as for losing it... I've personally witnessed at least a half-dozen fights near minor traffic bumps, including one involving a crowbar smashed against the windows. I've been appalled by just the opposite... the tendency of drivers to get out and shout and shove, rather than calmly taking registration and/or insurance information and waiting for the police.


Oh woe, the good old days when cadres had Red Flag limos that don't have to obey traffic laws (other countries use helicopters for the job... so you tell me which is more arrogant and wasteful).

If you want to see 'rage', try being a pedestrian in a lineup to get something that everyone wants - like getting on a train home during new years.

Or, see the fights that occasionally break out over taxis, or trying to get on buses.

There is rage there, but a bit more restrained when it comes to air travel --- where you are getting the top 1% of the population.

Having said that, I have had to deal with boorish passengers on a first class (soft) compartment train - and in that case, nearly had to call for train staff (who include pistol carrying railroad police) to intervene.


Yes, I've lived here for 2 years and I've wondered about the lack of road rage in China as well. And I wouldn't call the driving in most parts of China even remotely as well "controlled" as in the States. I can't remember ever seeing a driver pulled over and ticketed here. And the driving here is as dangerous and erratic as any I've seen in the 20 or so countries I've been to. There is an emphasis in Asian culture on not showing anger.

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"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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